This book is a three chapters novelette written in 1909 by the author of A Passage to India probably one of the earliest dystopian works of the 20th century, before Brave New World or 1984.It tells, in a few brush strokes, the story of a son and his mother in a world, far in the future, where humans on the whole planet live in sterilised and isolated cells underground, that they almost never leave They rarely and reluctantly meet each other in person and prefer communicating through a network that foreshadows our modern internet and messaging technology They exchange ideas, preferably second hand and if possible tenth hand , since they don t trust direct experience The mysterious and almighty Machine , to which one can access through a book a tablet , tends to all the needs of this human hive As says Forster, Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over reached itself It had exploited the riches of nature too far Quietly and complacently, it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine One day, of course, the machine stops.A visionary short story I suspect Houellebecq had precisely this book in mind when imagining the future in La Possibilit d une le. The saddest aspect of life now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdomIsaac AsimovThis is a short sci fi story in which English humanist author, E M Forster, astonishingly predicts the internet age way back in the early 1900s when a selfie would have left you with a blast of magnesium dust all over your face.In this dystopian future, people no longer get together for a chinwag over a mug of coffee instead, they are hermetically sealed into rooms that resemble cells in a beehive and only communicate via monitors gosh, imagine such a thing spending all day talking into a little screen The world is controlled by technology face to face social interaction and, gulp, touching each other has long since flown out of the window.All human needs are mechanically catered for at the press of a button and main character, Vashti, has no need to even get up out of her armchair, for it can glide across her hexagonal floor as easily as could a Dalek And in the midst of this nightmarish vision, Forster offers the reader a bouquet of sumptuous prose to ease the cheerlessness of our future world, and to remind us of what humankind will one day forfeit It was night For a moment she saw the coast of Sumatra edged by the phosphorescence of waves and crowded by lighthouses, still sending forth their disregarded beams. sigh beautiful, yet so desperately sad Yet, for all Forster s remarkable clairvoyance, he does fail to predict that Peking would not be called Peking in the future or will it Nostradamus would ve known that, just like he d have foreseen that Bedford Falls would become Pottersville if George Bailey had never been born Wow For having such vision and possessing such astonishing prescience I couldn t possibly award this work of genius anything less than five stars.If I owned one, I would take my hat off to E M Forster Of course, in the future, there would be a machine on hand to do that for me The Machine Stops Is A Science Fiction Short Story , Words By E M Forster After Initial Publication In The Oxford And Cambridge Review November , The Story Was Republished In Forster S The Eternal Moment And Other Stories In After Being Voted One Of The Best Novellas Up To , It Was Included That Same Year In The Populist Anthology Modern Short Stories In It Was Also Included In The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, Volume Two The Book Is Particularly Notable For Predicting New Technologies Such As Instant Messaging And The Internet Beware the New ScholasticismThe Machine Stops, written in 1909, is certainly a remarkably prescient tale of technological development Like a proto Cryptonomicon, it introduces ideas that we can now identify with the internet, the iPad, and even the 3 D production of goods, including food, from information But its lasting value isn t about technology it s about the mistakes we make when we start to think in a particular way The biggest mistake is that of what we have come to call fake news.Fake news is nothing new But it is not merely unsubstantiated rumour Fake news is that which confirms our existing views about the world It consists of facts which cannot be gainsaid because no other facts are sufficient to displace the views we have already committed to And it exists historically most markedly in societies in which established power is threatened.There is an historical epoch that was in fact dominated by fake news, the Middle Ages This was the era of Scholasticism, a mode of thinking that prided itself in summarising the implications of what was already known about the world and making sure nothing else, particularly if it disturbed established views, could be known In this, Scholasticism served the establishment of the Christian Church Revelation, according to church doctrine, had been completed at the death and resurrection of Christ This was the ultimate knowledge available to humanity Nothing was necessary Further factual information or experience was at best superfluous and at worst distracted from the import of doctrine, which might be extended by inference but never altered.Forster s fictional world is one of technological Scholasticism It is a world of undenominational Mechanism New experiences are considered not only unnecessary but positively harmful to this new religion Vashti, the protagonist, is seized with the terrors of direct experience She and her fellow travellers on long distance air ships refuse even to look out at the Himalayas since the sight gives them no ideas In good scholastic tradition, the only valid ideas are those that can be inferred from existing knowledge First hand ideas do not really exist They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy Let your ideas be second hand, and if possible tenth hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element direct observation Our modern information technology is the vehicle for just this tenth hand news And the effects are similar to those that affected Forster s dystopia as well as the latter Middle Ages We have experienced the same growing tensions between the governed and their governors the same rise in extremist views and violent clashes among those who have adopted them, and the same yearning in many parts for the good old days of permanent, unchanging truth about the world I suggest as a rule of thumb any news that claims historical continuity, from any quarter whatsoever, is probably fake Conservative politicians call it family values the Catholic Church calls it tradition Protestants call it the fundamentals scientists call it established theory Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue call it improvement anyone over 60 calls it yesterday All fake and all directed toward the maintenance of power As Forster says, fake news is undenomenational. Leonardo da Vinci famously anticipated the advent of helicopters, scuba gear, and automobiles, and had well laid plans for primitive versions of these things Da Vinci also used mirror writing in his notebooks The revolutionary astronomer, Johannes Kepler, similarly wrote of the invention of rocket ships traveling outside of the Earth and this was in the 1620 s This can be found in his novella The Dream, which is a work that is widely regarded by literary scholars and historians as the first example of writing that fits into the science fiction genre.Following in this tradition of ingenuity and jaw dropping foresight, E.M Forster s The Machine Stops ranks along side as an amazingly prophetic story Written in 1909 Forster anticipates the television, video conferencing and the internet and its attendant Age On top of this impressiveness it s also a pretty decent apocalyptic adventure story Were this written today I d consider its attitudes towards machinery to be na vely Luddite and a wee bit much in the fear mongering department, but given its historical contingencies I m capable of seeing it in a admirable light.It s ultimately a nightmarish vision of a world or less drained of human warmth and meaningfulness by the totalitarian clank and clatter of steel beams and inexorably greased engines In a slightly reaching way it s like the inverse of The Road , if that makes any sense The world is turned upside down by functioning machines rather than their collapse In both scenarios humans become rather powerless Ultimately, as the title suggests, the machine does stop and since it had gradually become so highly automated and systematically complex no one even knows how to repair it And thus the fascistic steel world of instant gratification and decadence erodes into The Roadish terrority It s a quick and entertaining read Give it a shot It can be read online here. The Machine Stops, E.M ForsterThe Machine Stops, is a science fiction short story by E M Forster After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review November 1909 , the story was republished in Forster s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928 The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand ideas Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction to his room There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world 1992 1370 64 20 1393 128 9786006867229. Shocking in its predictions a machine that runs everything and asks only that you live through it even to blocking out the sun and any other stimuli that might place you outside of the control of the prescribed focus of virtual design sound familiar I was straightforwardly gobsmacked when I first read this story last year Wow Here is our world, described one hundred years before it happens These are just a few samples that particularly appealed to me I don t want to give away the story and there are lots of other interesting ideas about the future, including, indeed, the idea of the idea that I will leave you to discover for yourselves, Who is it she called Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said Very well Let us talk, I will isolate myself I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno Modern life indeed.On the subject of us accepting what is inferior but convenient, interpolating the machine in our relationships with each other.In this world all people live in isolation in their rooms with technology supplying everything Kuno is her son and wishes to see her When she exclaims that he is seeing her, he replies I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you That is why I want you to come And The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.On globalisation Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking Men seldom moved their bodies all unrest was concentrated in the soul.On modern selection of foetuses, which shall live and which shall die, a process during which we believe ourselves to be morally correct By these days it was a demerit to be muscular Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not And, close to my heart, on the nature of the revision of history according to the contemporary s of the revisionist rest here My first thoughts on finishing E.M Forster s brilliant novella The Machine Stops, is that I cannot believe he wrote and published this in 1909.More of a chronological peer of H.G Wells The Time Machine 1895 than of modern day science fiction, this nonetheless is downright prophetic in its anticipation of a global dependence on technological communication and the ironic social isolation and alienation that results.Forster, better known for his realistic and modernistic contemporary fiction such as A Passage to India, A Room with a View, and Howards End tells a haunting speculative fiction story about a world that had become completely dependent upon The Machine , a global network of living arrangements in which everyone lived in an identical box and communicated and existed through lifelines supplied by the machine.Told as between correspondences between a mother and son, who live on either sides of the world and who, according to the mother, have no need to actually visit when they can speak everyday via the network created by the machine.Forster has invented a cautionary response to Wells optimistic future expectations, one that warns against a breakdown of physical and actual connections in exchange for those presumed by technology.Eerily relevant to our society over a hundred years later, this is a rare gem for a fan of science fiction and probably a surprisingly refreshing anomaly for a fan of Forster s recognized work. Would you panic at losing your wallet or your phone A few years ago, the question would be ridiculous, but now, it s a tough call, and many of us fear losing our smartphone , even with data synced in the cloud Our world, and all our access to it, is there I no longer know the phone numbers of my closest family We have outsourced our knowledge, and maybe ourselves, to our devices Perhaps by recording my thoughts on this website, rather than trying to remember them in my head, I m compounding that As machines become human, will we become cyborgs, and then machines or worse, irrelevant Update, January 2019 I was recently without a smartphone, and locked out of all data and apps for four weeks, and at a particularly difficult time Sorting it out, and managing in the interim was far, far worse than the time my wallet was stolen SetupThis short story is told in three chapters The first describes the situation, and has a hook as to what follows The middle has someone questioning, and the third explores consequences The surface of the earth cannot support life, so everyone lives underground Identical, solitary, sedentary lives, their every need provided by the Machine at the press of a button People give and watch lectures, always on a quest for ideas , and ever grateful to the omnipotent and benevolent Machine Each has their own Book of the Machine, with instructions against every possible contingency That appeals to the technical writer in me Civilized people neither need nor want to be polluted by touch or smell Contact with others is invariably by videocall, even between Vashti and her adult son, KunoParents, duties of, said the book of the Machine, cease at the moment of birth P.422327483 .They have everything they need, but nothing that matters to being human Men seldom moved their bodies all unrest was concentrated in the soul. Do you have a soul when there s so little opportunity for emotional engagement with anything, let alone anyone Only Connect Only connect That was the whole of her sermon Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height Live in fragments no longer. From Howards End.Like GoodReaders, the people in this story are hyperconnected simultaneously always and never alone She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously. Can one have meaningful friendships with so many Can you even remember who s who Having so many connections surely dilutes the value of each one Maybe hyperconnectivity makes us isolated, despite the veneer of popularity Vashti has an isolation knob, mainly used when sleeping What if GoodReads capped friends at 500 instead of 5000 Image cover of Hawkwind s concept album, The Machine Stops, from 2016Title track audio video , A Solitary Man, HERE.God in the Machine, or God IS the Machine Humans may have created the Machine, but now it bestows life, sustains life, and chooses when to allow life to end Reverence, rituals, and liturgy accrue to the Machine, and to the Book of the Machine Eventually, the Machine seems to believe as well, and to institutionalise and coerce that faith, gaslighting as it goes Humans subjugate themselves to the Machine their forefathers made to serve them We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries. I asked the same question about God and the Machine of Harlan Ellison s 1967 story, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream see my review HERE , last week That also has people living underground, their lives controlled by an omnipotent computer, but in that, it s the machine itself that usurps the mantle of God, and with very different consequences.For a different and comical slant on the apocalyptic danger of big brains, see Vonnegut s Galapagos, which I reviewed HERE.Edwardian Sci FiEM Forster wrote this staggeringly prescient short story in 1909, set a few hundred years in his future, though we re almost there now He was 30, had published A Room with a View the previous year, and would publish Howards End see my review HERE the year after Queen Victoria had died only eight years earlier, and The Great War wouldn t start for another five years A world or three away from now, even allowing for the technological and industrial progress of his age I almost wonder if he had access to HG Wells The Time Machine, as he describes things close to Skype, Spotify streaming, MOOCs, online shopping, social media, virtual reality, and post truth, fake news Quotes Just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit Something good enough had long since been accepted by our race Note, the anonymous narrator says our race I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you Skype and virtual reality are not quite reality The previous civilization that had mistaken the functions of the airship system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead of for bringing things to people We have lost the sense of space I determined to recover it, and I began by walking and so did recapture the meaning of Near and Far Man is the measure Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia that the Machine may progress eternally On atavism the Machine can have no mercy There will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation seraphically free from taint of personality Cartoon Are we there yet Source.